Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Week beginning December 5th - Sam 'Boni' Boniface - Lead Barista - Kaffeine Legend

It has been a month since he left, in fact it took a while to get him to leave, as he kept coming back to cover shifts or to do more classes just after his actual real final day. He was meant to finish up at 4 pm on a Friday afternoon (we try to get finishing people to finish at 4, so they do not have to close) but another staff member was ill and had to go home, so on his last day he stayed back and closed the machine. Then a few more shifts over the next few weeks to help us cover staff, and a few more classes as and when required until his plane left a few weeks later to go for an extended holiday back home.

But that is Sam. Sam 'Boni' Boniface. Originally from NZ, with a German passport so he can stay in the UK or EU and a great talent at making coffee and a real desire to work hard, please everybody and just be a general all round nice person.

Sam worked for Kaffeine for just over two years first as a barista then as senior barista and since April 2015, as Lead Barista of Great Titchfield street. He also ran the cricket for us over two seasons, leading the operations there for the major matches of the seasons in 2015 and 2016 as well as leading the very popular latte art and one on one classes that we offer.

However, there is only so much Kaffeine can offer an employee and Sam has chosen to follow his coffee career still in London, but with another company that will see him involved in roasting and all the components that come with that.

The good thing is he will still be in London, and hopefully we can still catch up and talk business and hopefully play golf (he's off a 2 handicap).

Sam, you worked over a great period of time in Kaffeine history and have worked with some amazing people, who I hope will remain your friends for a long time to come. You deserve the best because you strive to be the best, well done mate, well done indeed. You will be sorely missed.

I asked him to write about his time at Kaffeine, and below is his unadulterated version of what it is like to be a lead barista in a busy cafe.



Life as a Lead Barista at Kaffeine

Whilst I was in New York finishing up my travels through America, I applied for a barista position at Kaffeine and had landed an interview the day after my arrival to London. "Fresh off the boat…" as Peter would often refer to it. Researching Kaffeine I learnt that standards and expectations were very high. At the time I still had no idea about Kaffeines 'legendary' status amongst the London coffee scene or anything about the London coffee scene all together. My coffee knowledge was fairly substantial, I had learnt how to make coffee quickly but not to this level of precision. Shortly after a trial shift I was offered a barista position and at this point I knew I had to work extremely hard to prove my worth amongst a highly efficient, skilful and accomplished team.

I quickly realised that there was a thriving coffee scene in London that has been establishing itself for over the last decade. Cameron McLure is a New Zealander who founded and co-owned one of London's first artisan coffee shops that opened in 2005 and is located on Berwick Street, 'Old' Soho. It sits amongst the bustling and vibrant street vendors, fabric stores and vinyl shops. Flat White was sharing an antipodean cafe culture with London that remains iconic today and has spurred inspiration that resulted in a substantial growth of independent and speciality coffee shops in central London.

This is one place that helped to spark imagination for Peter Dore-Smith and undoubtedly led to the opening of Kaffeine in 2009. Between that time, a couple of very well known champions developed a coffee roastery named Square Mile that is supplying London with some of the best coffee on the market. For more than seven years Kaffeine has been serving Square Mile's signature blend called Red Brick which is comprised of a seasonal selection of coffees that have been very carefully put together to create an espresso that is robust with milk and delicious on it's own. The hunt for a decent cup of coffee was beginning to change, however, the next important task was learning how to brew coffee properly in order to fully showcase the beauty of this exotic ingredient.

Baristas and roasters are constantly developing and refining their techniques to get the most out of their product. The versatile nature of coffee is well understood now and this allows coffee makers to pursue flavour in coffee and find creative ways of achieving that.

By the time I had started working at Kaffeine (July, 2014); the efficiency of making coffee, the processes that helped maintain machinery and the revision of extraction ratios had already been done. There where many cafes for me to visit and more due to open. To me it seemed like the industry had hit a boom and It almost felt like I had missed it, so there was a lot for me to catch up on. It took me about 5 months to learn the job properly and a lot of patience from my colleagues was necessary. However that 'true blue' Kiwi work ethic installed within allowed me to see through my first promotion. I was enjoying the challenge of working at Kaffeine and living the London life. There was a camaraderie and banter behind the bar that helped to alleviate some of the stress and pressure of the job and created a more anthemic environment to work in. This environment provides that high level of barista theatre required when handling competently crafted coffee. 

A key element in any hospitality or coffee establishment today is to keep developing with time. I am still learning how quickly trends can shape the direction of the industry, whether it be the use of new equipment or a new method of brewing. Bulletproof had established itself by creating an interesting way to drink coffee. Combining espresso and "Brain Octane oil" (grass-fed butter) providing a slow release of caffeine in to the blood stream and seemed appealing to the market. Now you can buy a turmeric latte or a pumpkin-nitro latte. You can have your coffee with soy milk; almond, rice or oat milk… It is quite extraordinary and a little bit overwhelming for a business owner to decide what or not to sell. One of the more important changes that Kaffeine has adopted recently is a guest espresso program. It seems very worthwhile since there is opportunity for every stage in coffee production. There is a lot of incredibly roasted coffee on the market that has been fairly sourced either by the roastery or reliable traders. This level of traceability is valued by the roaster, barista also many of today's consumer and even more so by the producer of the coffee. It makes every stage of the process distinct and very important and It is this traceability that has helped to govern the quality of the final beverage. 

It wasn't long after my first promotion that I received the duty of Lead Barista and teaching coffee classes at Kaffeine. This was a wonderful opportunity to revise what I had learnt from fellow professionals and also build confidence in myself to deliver a teaching program that clients felt was well worth while. As much as I found teaching hugely rewarding, balancing a Lead Barista and training position was intense and I'm sure most if not all previous LB's would feel the same way. The work load was high and the hours were long but I didn't expect anything different. There are copious amounts of responsibilities to learn and figure out, maintain and develop upon, everything on top of everything, as some days it felt like. And with out the help and support of some revered colleagues
the job would have been a lot harder. Arriving to work before sunrise and some days finishing two hours before midnight was quite often the reality of this job.

The following day may have been a seven-seven shift and so on until the next day off. However, personally, these challenges are what made this work so satisfying and for me the reward is experience, knowledge and self-assurance that I was able to learn, teach, manage and prosper in one of the most intense coffee jobs in London. 

A recollection I am particularly proud of was working at the Marylebone Cricket Club more commonly know as Lord's. This is a very prestigious venue in it's own right and growing up as a back yard cricket superstar this was a wonderful opportunity for me to spend some time at the 'home of Circket'. I was lucky enough to be taking through the Lord's Pavilion which is only accessible to MCC members during a test match and demands a strict dress code. It also features the players dressing rooms, honours boards and The Long Room described as "…the most evocative four walls in Cricket". It was my responsibility to get Kaffeine set up in the Harris Gardens and the Media Centre and this required a huge checklist of things essential for five days of coffee making, continuous on site management and extreme morning rush hours. 

During the Ashes test in 2015 coffee numbers in the Harris Gardens would hit 1000+ on a busy morning between 08:30am/ 11:30am. We would serve both batch brew filter coffee and espresso based coffee and during that five day test we would grind 95+ kilos of coffee. We would hit similar numbers in the 2016 international tests and ODI. There would be a pleasant 10-15 minuets each morning after our preparation for service where we would see spectators eagerly running to there seats before getting there morning coffee. The calm before the storm. These are fond memories for me and I must say a special thank you to Chloe Turner for her helping hand and running of the Media Center during this years busy Cricket season. 

I'd like to refer to an analogy and compare my experience of working at Kaffeine to that of a young chef who wants to run a restaurant; the road to success will be difficult and the first few years of the endeavour will be tough. At first you are a sponge soaking up knowledge and experience which might go on for years before you might become successful. Every job that needs doing for any purpose will need to be carried out with speed, caution and competence. Pedantry never made an interesting book but these principals will be very similar for any successful business and in order to achieve that each position or role in the business needs to have a level of importance. This occupation allowed me to gain a little bit of insight into what it will take to own something one day and the practical knowledge I walk away with is extremely valuable to me. Now I look forward to continuing on my own venture and perhaps create more healthy competition for Kaffeine in the future.

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  1. Proud of you, Kaffeine and especially you, Sam - Mum & Dad

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